BBC documentary on PM Modi is ‘propaganda’ and reflects ‘colonial mindset’, says India

Though the documentary wasn’t screened by the BBC in India, various social media platforms were flooded with snippets shared by viewers from abroad

January 19, 2023 04:43 pm | Updated January 20, 2023 01:10 am IST - New Delhi

Spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi.

Spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi. | Photo Credit: PTI

A documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that revealed the government of the United Kingdom carried out an investigation into the 2002 Gujarat riots is a piece of “propaganda” that reflects the “agencies and individuals” who carry a “colonial mindset”, an official of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Thursday. Responding to questions on the documentary that revisited the riots and several other related cases, including the murder of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya and alleged police inaction against violent mobs. The official Spokesperson of the MEA Arindam Bagchi said the Indian authorities would not like to “dignify” the documentary.

“The bias, the lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible. If anything, this film or documentary is a reflection on the agency and individuals that are peddling this narrative again,” Mr. Bagchi said, clarifying that the BBC hasn’t screened the film in India.

The film, India: The Modi Question, has reported that under the Prime Ministership of Tony Blair, the U.K. conducted an investigation into the riots that included at least three Indian-origin British citizens among the casualties. “There were very serious claims that Chief Minister Modi had played a proactive part in pulling back the police and in tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists,” former Foreign Secretary of the U.K. Jack Straw is shown stating in the documentary. The film which is a “long form reportage” informed the riots had created “great deal of alarm” in the U.K. and both the U.K. and the European Union conducted inquiries into the phase of mass violence that lasted for nearly three days in Gujarat beginning with February 28, 2002.

The inquiry by the U.K. and the EU was confirmed by former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, who said on social media, the U.K. “sent their diplomat to Gujarat and circulated highly slanted report to EU envoys in Delhi”.

In his response, Mr. Bagchi further stated: “Let me just make it very clear that we think this is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative.” Though the documentary wasn’t screened by the BBC in India, various social media platforms were flooded with snippets shared by viewers from abroad. It also remained available on various platforms like YouTube and other digital archives.

In response to a query from The Hindu, a BBC spokesperson said, “The documentary on YouTube was not uploaded by the BBC. As is standard practice, we follow procedure to have illegal uploads of any BBC content removed.” The organisation also defended the programme saying that it was “rigorously researched”.

The documentary was taken up by Pakistan-origin lawmaker Imran Hussain at the House of Commons who described the 2002 riots as a “grave act of ethnic cleansing”. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in response said, “The U.K. government’s position on this has been clear and long-standing and hasn’t changed. Of course, we don’t tolerate persecution anywhere, but I am not sure I would agree with the characterisation the gentleman has put forward.”

The Gujarat riots featured in the U.K. Parliament last February, especially in the context of U.K. citizens who died in the communal violence. At that time, Labour Party MP Kim Leadbeater demanded the return of the mortal remains of three British nationals who died in mob attacks in Gujarat. Mr. Bagchi, however, could not confirm if the U.K. took up the matter with India at the diplomatic level during the last two decades.

“It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it and frankly we do not wish to dignify such efforts,” said Mr. Bagchi.

(With inputs from Aroon Deep)

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